The Six Degrees of Separation theory is an interesting topic and theory which has turned into a cultural phenomenon. The theory has attracted both interest and debate.
The theory proposes that everyone on Planet Earth are six (or less) steps away from every other person in the world, based on their connections.
This brings the idea of “a friend of a friend” to life. But as we mentioned, this theory has caused debate, with some suggesting it is incorrect. But what do the statistics and data suggest? We take a look and invite our readers to vote in the poll at the end.
After the bloodshed of World War One, it was widely accepted that the world was “shrinking”. As well as the population lowering, rapid technological advancements meant that humans became closer.
The theory was originally proposed back in the 1920s by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy. But it was only in the 1990s that the theory became well-known, due to a play written by John Guare that involved the theory.
Since the play, the Six Degrees of Separation theory has been debated heavily in popular culture. There have been some key arguments in the overall theory.
Professor Duncan Watts
As will be explored further later, Columbia University showed a strong interest in the theory in the early 2000s. Professor Duncan Watts was at the forefront of their investigations.
Watts attempted to test out the theory. He used citizens from 157 countries to conduct a test. His study found that the most common amount of connections people were away from one another was 6.
This added weight to the suggestion that the theory was accurate. However, his compatriots at Columbia University questioned the findings just 2 years later.
Columbia University Project
In 2003, more academics joined forces to conduct their own experiment. They used email as a way of determining if the theory was accurate.
Heading into the study, they had set a target of reaching 18 pre-selected people across 13 nations.
Despite 100,000 people entering, the target was nowhere near met. The academics concluded that the theory was incorrect and not accurate.
In 2007, Microsoft Messenger (known as MSN by some) was at its height – regularly bringing in millions of users who chatted to one another using the service.
Jure Leskovec and Eric Horvitz were two employees at MSN. They examined 30 billion conversations from instant messages – coming from 240 million people.
This large study did indeed reach the conclusion that the average path length between people was six! This added considerable weight to the argument, especially given the large swathes of information that MSN had access to.
The theory re-entered popular culture through media personality Kevin Bacon. A game took place where the player would attempt to link Bacon through no more than six connections to another actor.
Google even got in on the act by inviting users to take part, which helped to result in even more interest in the game. Many users were able to make the connections.
Without doubt, social media has greatly increased the chances of this theory being accurate. It is easier than ever now to connect with people online.
After all, how many times on social media you have come across someone that is seemingly a “random” person, only to find that you have mutual friends or connections?
There is no scientific consensus as to whether or not the theory is correct. Studies have produced mixed results.
There is a common saying of “it’s a small world” – when a seemingly coincidental events happen, but maybe there is a bigger picture at play – namely the six degrees of separation theory.
There certainly does seem to be a lot of weight behind the theory. It is also rather exciting to think that you’re hero or even your celebrity crush is just 6 connections away! The world continues to amaze us.
Why not vote in our reader’s poll below: